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Can You Survive a No Spend Year Challenge? She Did It!

No Spend Year Challenge
Written by Irina Vasilescu

We’re not kidding. A UK Journalist spent an entire year without spending and paid down 10 percent of her mortgage instead. But how does one live without money? We follow Michelle McGagh’s year without spending, look at what she did and what she learned.

After all, not spending is the best way to save, isn’t it?

Why Michelle Took on the Challenge

Michelle is a personal finance journalist, and by most people’s standards, she was doing pretty well. She didn’t have credit card debt, kept her bank account looking healthy enough, and only had a mortgage to pay off. But Black Friday 2015 put her in a new frame of mind. She decided to rethink her relationship with consumerism.

Nope, she didn’t wait for Christmas to be over before she started. She started RIGHT AWAY!

[easy-tweet tweet=”Lesson learned: If you want to fix your spending habits, start NOW, not next month, or next week, or tomorrow!” template=”light”]

A Look at Her Bank Statements Proved Salutary

As Michelle took a closer look at her spending patterns, she soon realized that her money management wasn’t as great as she had thought it was. Over the course of a year, for example, she discovered she’d spent over  £400 ($487) on coffee – and she wasn’t even that crazy about it!

Looking through the impulse buys, expensive restaurant meals and occasional shopping sprees, she realized that she was spending money mindlessly.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Lesson learned: Be mindful of your spending.” template=”light”]

Home in Storage

Just before she made her resolution, Michelle and her husband had spent time renovating their home. With just about everything gutted, most of the family’s possessions went into storage.

She was expecting she’d frequently have to pop by to retrieve some or other item she was missing madly, but in the end, the trips to the storage facility were rare. Her conclusion was logical: she didn’t really need most of the stuff she owned.

That’s when she read about Buy Nothing Day. What if she could turn it into a whole year?

[easy-tweet tweet=” Lesson learned: We don’t actually need most of what we own, but we keep buying all the same!” template=”light”]

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No Spend Year Challenge

Setting the Rules

Obviously, some things are necessities nobody can do without, so to make her “Spend Nothing Year” feasible, Michelle set a strict budget that included nothing but the necessities.

In her book, these were:

  • Mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Charity donations
  • Broadband and phone
  • Basic toiletries
  • Cleaning products
  • Food

Ready-made food wasn’t even a consideration, so there’d be no purchased snacks, take outs or meals out. She and her husband set the food budget at just £35 ($42) per week.

Since she lived near enough to her work to cycle, she decided to cut out bus fare. And since there’d be no gym membership, the bike ride would do for exercise.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Lesson learned: Know what’s necessary.” template=”light”]

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No Spend Year Challenge

Having Fun for Free

At first, Michelle and her friends worried that her challenge would turn her into a hermit. After all, there’d be no more paid nights out – not even a trip to the movies! And what about holidays? She and her husband solved the holiday question by enjoying a cycling holiday, sleeping rough on beaches. They had a great time!

But, she admits, her social life suffered that winter. All her friends wanted to do was go out to places where there’d be conviviality and a roaring fire. But for Michelle, buying booze at a pub – or even drinking it at home – was strictly out.

But then the spring came along, and suddenly there were picnics, free art gallery visits, pleasant strolls in parks, and trips to (free) museums she hadn’t visited in years.

That’s when she had a revelation: of course it was impossible to have the same social life as before, but she could change her social life and still enjoy it! What’s more, she found that she was enjoying many of her free activities much more than she’d enjoyed the old, expensive ones.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Lesson learned: You can have fun for free. It won’t be the same, but it’ll still be great.” template=”light”]

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No Spend Year Challenge

Any Regrets?

There were a few things that Michelle really wanted to do but couldn’t because of her no-spending year. She regretted being able to go on a trip to Spain with an old friend who would soon be emigrating to Australia, and she realized that her big challenge was probably difficult for other friends and family at times.

And though she didn’t miss expensive beauty products much, she absolutely craved a decent moisturizer, especially since all the cycling dried out her skin. She tried oats and water, and was surprised at how well it worked to soften her skin, but it still wasn’t quite the same.

Her clothes began to show a little strain too – and she’d promised she wouldn’t buy a thing. Still, a torn coat, shabby trainers, and jeans that were about to give their last gasp got her down.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Lesson learned: It won’t always be easy when you’re on a tight budget.” template=”light”]

At Last! November 2016 Rolled into View!

Michelle had saved a massive £22,493 ($27,333) during her no spend year. It all went towards her mortgage. Now, as the clock struck midnight on the anniversary of her epic effort, she was a free woman again. Would she return to casual spending? Go on a spree? Shop till she dropped? None of the above!

No Spend Year Challenge

Here’s what Michelle says she learned from her epic year

  • She budgets carefully for everything including holidays.
  • She lost the urge to splurge, buying only what she needed.
  • She prioritized people – a trip to see her grandpa was a must-have.
  • She loves the idea of being free of her mortgage.
  • She doesn’t want to work for stuff she doesn’t actually need.
  • She has a deeper understanding that things can’t make one happy.
  • Balance is important. A little of this, a little of that, but never too much.
  • She’s amazed at just how much disposable income she had without being aware of it.
  • She knows she’s really, really lucky.

There’s a lot we can learn from Michelle’s year-long challenge, and whether we’re up for emulating her example or not, we sure can apply her experiences including the lessons we extracted from her narrative ourselves:

  • Start now
  • Be mindful
  • Know you don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy
  • Know what’s necessary
  • Have fun for free

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No Spend Year Challenge

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About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our money-saving and DIY expert and also the editor-in-chief as she's always on the lookout for the latest online deals.

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